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In the year 1570 three Witheridge vintners fell foul of the strict laws on licensing and on the maximum prices that could be charged for wine. In the England of Elizabeth the First, those who could afford to avoided drinking water, and preferred wine. They looked to local wine suppliers, known as vintners, for their stock imported from Portugal, Spain, and France. They also enjoyed a bottle or two at their local tavern. Sometimes vintners and tavern keepers chose to ignore the strict laws on licensing and on the maximum prices that could be charged for wine. William Wall, Richard Wall and Raphe Poole had each kept a tavern in Witheridge since September 1566 without a license. They had also broken the law on the pricing of wine by charging too much. The amounts were substantial; William had charged too much for a hogshead, Raphe for a tun, and Richard for two tuns. This meant that Raphe had sold, illegally, 252 gallons, perhaps 1,000 bottles, and Richard twice as much, also illegally.

In older times these offences would have come before the County Justices, but Queen Elizabeth was always keen to increase her income and had decreed that the fines in these cases should come to her. She had appointed Edward Horsey to do this for her, and he in turn had delegated this to one Richard Ellis. There may well have been something in this for both Edward and Richard. Our vintners came before Richard Ellis. There could have been no doubt of their guilt. The Indenture of 28th June 1570, from which all this information comes, makes frequent references to the Queen as Our Sovrayne Ladie, and particularly to her mercy toward all those who humbly submitted and agreed to pay reasonable fines. Since this document confirmed all the laws referred to, whether passed under the Queen or her predecessor, Edward the 6th, William, Richard and Raphe were guilty and had to pay. Williams fine is not known, but the other two had to pay twenty shillings each, a substantial sum at that time. When they had paid they would be pardoned for all their errors and wrongdoings.

There were two copies of the document on the parchment, and they were cut apart in a wavy line. One copy went to the Court of Chancery and the other to the Court of the Exchequer. Neither copy was valid on its own, but they could be fitted together when required. There were seven signatures at the bottom. Among them Richard Ellis made a good job of his, and William managed a shaky wyllwall, but Raphe and the other Richard made do with crosses.

Footnote 1) Raphe Poole had already been in trouble in 1561 for selling cider by false measure, and had been fined.

Footnote 2) We know that William had been living in the town of Witheridge in 1553, and that Richard had lived at West Newland (maybe Down Farm)

By the 19th century, ale, made from fermented malt, and beer, flavoured with hops, were sold through three main outlets. Alehouses, in which the product was brewed on the premises, taverns, which also sold wine, and inns, which provided accommodation. Beer was introduced in the 15th century, prior to which ale was the only available choice. Alehouses were initially mostly temporary concerns, run by local families to supplement their incomes. However, in the late 17th century their facilities slowly improved and they also began to increase in size. The term public house replaced alehouse in the 18th century and the first purpose-built public houses were erected at the beginning of the 19th century.

Inns grew in importance from the Middle Ages, when many profited from housing the ever-growing number of pilgrims, through the 18th century with its new turnpike roads and associated coach traffic, to the industrialisation of the Victorian period. From the early 19th century there was a tendency towards decline with the coming of the railways and the advent of hotels. It is important to remember that, in their heyday, inns not only provided refreshment and accommodation, but were also venues for local courts, meetings of all kinds, political debates and commercial activities.

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Last Edited 03/07/2006    Copyright © 2000-2006 Witheridge

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